Junior doctors in England to stage more strikes over pay

Thousands of junior doctors are to stage new strike action in England after failing to reach a deal with the government in talks over pay.

They will walk out for 72 hours from 7am on 20 December until 7am on 23 December, and again for six days from 3 to 9 January. The development will spark alarm among NHS leaders, who had hoped to make inroads over the coming months into the record high waiting list of 7.8 million.

Strikes in the NHS, which have also included other staff groups including nurses, physiotherapists and paramedics, have led to more than a million appointments, procedures and surgeries being rescheduled – with some patients facing disruption on several occasions. The industrial action has cost the NHS more than £1bn.

But on Tuesday the committee announced it had unanimously voted for further strike action after five weeks of talks between junior doctors and the government failed to result in a “credible offer” to end the pay dispute.

📢 STRIKE DATES ANNOUNCEMENT📢 Junior doctors in England to take further #PayRestoration industrial action.

The first strike action will take place from 7am on 20 December to 7am on 23 December. The second will take place from 7am on 3 January until 7am on 9 January.

— Junior Doctors (@BMA_JuniorDocs) December 5, 2023

It comes just days after the new health secretary, Victoria Atkins, spoke of her “respect” for junior doctors in a move that highlighted a markedly different tone from her predecessor, Steve Barclay.

The government last month agreed a deal with consultants in England to end a bitter dispute over pay. Atkins then outlined plans to reach a deal with junior doctors – who make up about half the medical workforce – and said she had found the leaders of the British Medical Association (BMA) junior doctors’ committee to be “very constructive”.

In a joint statement, the committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: “We have been clear from the outset of these talks that we needed to move at pace and if we did not have a credible offer, we would be forced to call strikes.

“After five weeks of intense talks, the government was unable to present a credible offer on pay by the deadline. Instead, we were offered an additional 3%, unevenly spread across doctors’ grades, which would still amount to pay cuts for many doctors this year. It is clear the government is still not prepared to address the real-terms pay cut doctors have experienced since 2008.”

The co-chairs said it was “a great shame” that despite a more constructive approach from the government, there was “not enough on offer to shape a credible deal”.

“Without enough progress by the deadline, we have no choice but to take action that demonstrates doctors are as determined as ever in reversing their pay cuts.,” they added.

“However, we can still avoid the need for these strikes. We will be ready and willing any time the government wants to talk. If a credible offer can be presented the day before, or even during any action, these strikes can be cancelled.”

Junior doctors are requesting a 35% increase in pay. During the summer, the government said they would receive a 6% wage rise and £1,250.

Cutting waiting lists was one of five pledges that Rishi Sunak made at the start of the year, along with halving inflation this year, growing the economy, making sure national debt is falling, and passing new laws to stop small boat crossings.

Keir Starmer has pointed out that waiting lists have gone up since the prime minister set the goal of reducing them.

At prime minister’s questions last month, the Labour leader said the NHS waiting list stood at 7.8 million – half a million more than in January.

Strikes have been ongoing in the NHS since December 2022, leading to the cancellation or postponement of almost 1.1m appointments.